Weekend America on NPR has been running a series on swimming pool stories. Seems slightly silly to me, but I listened to a few of the stories and one of them made me a little sad, but was followed by one that made me so insanely happy. The first was a story of a black family who were verbally accosted by a white boy about “their kind” not being allowed. They still went in, since there wasn’t legal segregation anymore, but, they didn’t take their eyes off each other the entire time they were in the pool. Any enjoyment that the day had held for them was marred by that one little boy and his ignorance.
The second story was of a young white boy who had befriended a black boy. They got along well and everything was hunky dory with them. Then, one day, the black boy cut his hand on the fence. The white boy was absolutely amazed that his blood was red. That their blood was the exact same color and that they were really alike in so many more ways than they were different. That’s the story that almost made me cry. To think and realize that people are just the same inside, it’s only slight variations on the outside that make us different, and to realize that before you reach the years where you start to make certain statements that you feel you must stick by for the rest of your life. It makes me glad that one little boy sacrificed a little bit of blood to change this other boy into someone who understood that underneath it all, we are just blood, muscle and sinew.
I got to thinking about some of my swimming pool memories. There were the summers that I hung out with my cousin because she lived in a townhouse community with a pool. We rode our bikes all over that community and tried to decide which of the three pools was the best one. I don’t know if we ever really came to a decision, we just were more excited to be swimming almost every day that summer. I looked about 16 years old, even though I was only about 14 at the time, but you needed to be at least 16 in order to not have a parent present. My aunt said that she would tell them that I was 16 so she didn’t have to go with us every time we wanted to go swimming. I loved staying at my aunt’s house. They had air conditioning and a swimming pool. What more could you want at 14?
But, the happiest swimming pool memory I have is going to the community pool in Clewiston, FL. I dreaded trips to see my maternal grandmother. She was an alcoholic and I was sent on these trips because my little cousin Brandi wanted to see her grandma. My mom and her sister couldn’t take time off work to stay with us for a week while we visited. So, I was packed along to keep an eye on Brandi and make sure to hustle her out of the room when Grandma got a little too drunk. That’s quite a burden for an 8 year old, but you make do with what you have.
So, one day Grandma decided that she was going to take us to the pool. After having her half bottle of whiskey that morning, she packed us into the car with our towels and sunblock and flip flops and took us to the pool. The drive over was uneventful, thank goodness given her condition, and Brandi and I got to swim around for about four or five hours that day. I was just learning how to float and was really excited when I finally got the hang of it after about an hour. I kept trying to teach Brandi how to float, and to this day, I don’t think she’s able to. Sad.
I floated in that pool for hours that day. I could hear muffled shouts of play and joy from the other kids. Brandi yelling at me to watch her do a handstand or a cannonball. There was someone there with a radio, and I could barely hear it. Just the muffled noises and the sound of my own heartbeat. I kept my eyes closed through most of it, after all, this is Florida sunshine we are talking about. Second only to Arizona sunshine (so far that I have noticed) in terms of burning your retinas if you dare take off your sunglasses in a reflective area, say a solar panel farm or a field of mirrors. Or a parking lot. Whatever.
I was just there. Just me and the water and the muffled noises. No burden of care of my cousin. No judging Grandma’s sobriety. No wondering if I was going to have to figure out how to make dinner, or if Grandma would be able to find the energy and the break from her bottle long enough to get my cousin fed. Nothing. The freedom of that day was worth the sunburn on the tips of my toes, on my face and the palms of my hands. That pain was worth those four hours of absolute freedom.
That is my happiest pool memory.
Do you have one?